Thursday, December 29, 2005

Slidin' Home

This week I've been in Tampa for the AAU Winter Nationals. The weather has been simply phenomenal-- 70 degrees, low humidity, and crystal clear skies. Makes it really difficult to do my job. But when I do bring myself around to focusing on the players at hand, I've mainly been jumping between fields at Hillsborough High School, Florida College, and University of South Florida. Those are where the L1 and L2 divisions for high school are playing.

Of course, if all I had to do was hang out in Tampa for the week to watch prospects, my life would be simple. But that would be too easy. Instead, each of the last three evenings I've made my way through the parking lot known as Interstate 4 to Orlando. That's where I hook-up with the sports psychologist for our club, Dr. Julian Rakes. Come to find out that he's actually in Orlando teaching several classes at an annual sports psychologist conference. At first I thought he was attending to learn the latest shrink techniques, but I guess he's so far above the rest that he's teaching them instead. Pretty impressive. That's my Doc.

Over the last three evenings I've picked him up from his hotel and we've driven all over Orlando interviewing roughly two prospects each evening. Most of which should go in the top ten rounds of the draft and will likely be playing this summer for a minor league team (provided they sign).

I cannot overstate the value of a solid psychological profile. Gone are the days where the top draft pick gets a $100,000 signing bonus (ala Rick Monday). Today, seven figure bonuses are the norm in the first round. I absolutely need to do my due diligence. Especially when the makeup is suspect or at least questionable. I cannot risk having a head-case wash out in the first year after a nice fat bonus.

That brings me to Dallas Parker, starting pitcher for Wekiva Community College, whom we met this evening at his trailer somewhere out in the sticks of north Orlando. Incidentally, he shared with me this picture of him making Christmas cookies for his daughter. Poor guy didn't even have a rolling pin. Apparently he promised the kid next door a half-dozen cookies if he could borrow a wood bat to roll out the dough. I can certainly testify that it indeed worked as Dallas offered me and the Doc some left over cookies that made it past Santa. They were the best I've had in years. If baseball didn't work out for Dallas, I'm sure he could find a job baking. Dallas spent a good fifteen minutes talking about the recipe, how to make the icing, and certain decorating tips.

Everything was going well until Dr. Rakes interrupted with a premeditated question that set Dallas ablaze.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Texas Leaguer (Part II)

Xavier Pacheco, 3B, R/R, OFP: 52/60
5'10', 170 lbs.
Compact body with an athletic look. Strong legs. Medium frame. Body similar to David Bell when he came out of the draft in 1990. Room to fill out. Father is approximately 5'11', 190, with muscular body.

Hitting for Average and Power: Wide stance on firm base. Rhythm is fluid. Slight uppercut. Quick hands through the zone allowing him to handle breaking ball with ease. Full arm extension and follow-through. Consistently putting the barrell on the ball. Ball jumps off the bat with pop. Little wasted movement. Power CF to pull. Lines the ball to opposite. Not afraid to swing with two strikes. Aggressive with balls in zone. Very disciplined and patient. Scrappy. Loves to work the pitcher. Always spends time after practice in BP. I could see him in the early part of the order.

Fielding and Arm Strength: Low center of gravity and stays in it at all times. Good balance and range. First few steps are quick and decisive. Good nose for the ball. Quick feet to establish solid base to throw from. Hands could be a touch softer. Fast to bunted balls. Slight carry through on throw to first. Throw from deep third has an arc. Off-balanced throws also have an arc but are accurate. Very rarely does his pull the first basemen off the bag or into the base path. Quick release.

Speed: 4.2 seconds on contact to first. Steals at will. Not quite Chone Figgins speed but more like Alfonso Soriano. Very rarely caught. Threat to tag-up on hits anywhere in the outfield. Savvy baserunner with good anticipation. Speed to makeup for any over-aggressiveness. Turns routine doubles into triples.

Weaknesses: To play third at the next level he needs to strengthen his arm. His arm is average to below-average which means he will only be able to throw out average to below-average runners. He could also use some more power in his bat. Although he hits it hard, most of his hits are line drives. Even during BP his HRs are mostly on a line.

Summary: If he doesn't improve on his arm strength, I can see him being moved to second base. Although he does produce runs, I see him as more of a run scorer at the next level. More of a Wade Boggs-type of third base hitter. Likely to score more runs than RBIs on a consistent basis with home run production in the low teens. Will hit plenty of extra bases. Like a Marcus Giles if moved to second. Also has the potential to be a dependable base stealer like Soriano.

The Sixth Tool: Enjoys the game. Early to practice, latest to leave. Helps coach younger players. Vocal leader. Takes direction well. Eager to improve and self-motivated. Wants it on his shoulders to knock home the winning run. Bounces back well after errors or bad plate appearances. Not easily distracted. Same level of mental focus in practice as in the games. Pit bull scrapper. Always covered in red clay. No desire to play college. Tough family life. Mother passed away at a young age. Father works two jobs and is rarely at home or at the games.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Texas Leaguer (Part I)

I love the Waffle House. There's just something about entering through those glass doors. Their food isn't so great but their people always shout out a warm greeting as soon as you set foot on their greasy floors. And they always seem to know what I'm thinking.

"You looking for a little computer guy with glasses and a laptop?" the waitress asked while pouring a cup of coffee for a patron at the bar. Her voice is raspy from years of smoking which reminded me that I should probably kick the habit sooner than later.

I nod and she points to the corner booth on the end. I can see his young face illuminated by a laptop screen. Deep in thought, feverishly typing away. I dropped my notebook onto the table and slid into the booth. He managed to take his eyes off the screen for a split second to acknowledge me. No words. Just a quick glance. What happened next was like one of those bloppers dropping between second and center. You don't know quite what to make of it.

The kid reached down into his bag of tricks and pulled out a ten page scouting report on Xavier Pacheco. He slid it over to my side of the table without taking his eyes of his computer screen. The report had a nice cover page with the kid's picture and his basic information: bats/throws, height/weight, date of birth, etc. Mind you, I was just looking for a paragraph or two about what tools he saw and what kind of player he thought Xavier would become. It goes without saying that Carson and I are on different planets. Maybe even different galaxies. Nah...different universes.

As soon as I turned to the first page, Carson pushed his laptop aside and said two words. "Chipper Jones." After a long pause, he went on to say that if he had to compare Xavier to a third baseman in the majors, it would be Chipper. There was another lengthy pause as he continued to study his screen as if the consequence of all mankind depended on it. The suspense was killing me.

I turned my palms to the sky as if to say, anytime you're ready, jack... He then went into this highly technical thesis of sorts using Xavier's varsity high school stats compared with Chipper's MLB stats. Oh, and there were graphs too. Lots of them. I took the liberty of showing you one of them above-- Chipper's OBP. He showed me all sorts of ratios and trends as well as their correlations. Although I felt like he was picking a stock instead of a ball player, I must say that it was a fascinating display. Of what, I still don't know, but it was interesting to say the least.

I was waiting for the page about Xavier's tools and how these fundamentals would match up to Chipper's. But it never came. It was pretty much a statistical lovefest. Carson admitted that this was the first time he had scouted a high school player but he was relieved to find all of Xavier's high school stats online with a local paper. He even found Xavier's "all-county" photo in the same archive. The traveling team apparently had a short bio for Xavier on their website too. The wonders of modern technology. But I always just asked. Which brought my curiosity to another question.

"Did you at least talk to him?"

"Maybe 30 seconds. Just enough to get his cell phone--"

I waved him off in disgust. It was time for me to share with Carson what I first wrote about Xavier when I first scouted him. I reached into my bag of tricks and pulled out a handwritten report done earlier this year.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Quality Start

"The Player who can retain his joy for baseball is the one who has not let others' needs intrude upon his own. He is also the one most likely to perform the best, and that, in turn, will help keep the fun in the game. His senses won't be dulled; his being won't be threatened." -- The Mental Game of Baseball.

Found: Carson Bailey, a thirty-something wonderboy looking to find the next Albert Pujols with his PC. Not to mention that he's my new bird dog for south Florida. We ate lunch at a small pizzeria on the circle in Hollywood. In looking back on how things went, I can honestly say that today was quite a day for "firsts." Until today, I've never seen anyone put mayonnaise on their breadsticks. Until today, I've never seen anyone bring a Starbucks latte into a pizzeria explaining that it brings out the best flavors in a pepperoni pizza. Until today, I've never heard of anyone emailing the GM of a club with some uniquely arranged data on college players and being offered a job on the spot. Not even Goldie was so fortunate. I believe it took him at least three emails to get the GM's attention.

Until today, I had never heard the term "Sabermetrics." Hopefully I spelled that correctly. Anyhow, I couldn't get Carson to shut up about it. Even worse, he insisted on trucking through his pizza while talking at the same time. Little bits of pepperoni flew out of his mouth all over the table, including on my own plate. When I wasn't picking the extra topping off my pizza, I tried to discuss my philosophy on scouting. Unfortunately, Carson has an advanced listening impediment which causes his tongue to never slow down. I couldn't hardly get a word in edgewise. At least Goldie let me talk. Now whether he was listening is another story.

When I was able to ask for some sort of bio, he reached down for a well-worn Manila folder and pulled out what resembled a resume. The corners of the paper were dog-eared and there looked to be a round coffee stain from a Starbucks coffee cup, no doubt. He confessed that he didn't expect that I would ask for the resume and then proceeded to hack through an awkward apology for its appearance. Taking a quick glance, it was all business related and computer stuff. He got his MBA from some school in Philadelphia, worked on Wall-Street for a couple years, left to start his own computer company and is now in the process of trying to sell it.

"Any game experience?" I asked.

"Does little league count? I batted clean-up," he replied sarcastically.

I ran my fingers through what little hair I have left. That's just great. He's a smartass too! Where's my cigarettes? When does the sports psychologist come to town? Not a minute too soon for me.

Not really knowing what his capacity for the game was, I decided to give him some homework. Two traveling teams were scheduled to scrimmage in Kendall tonight in order to prepare themselves for a tournament over the holiday break. I had roughly three legitimate draft prospects that were to be in action. One of which was a third baseman named Xavier Pacheco. I watched his kid last year rally his high school team to a district championship as a junior. What impressed me the most, however, was his mental focus during the district championship game.

The opposing team's players, parents, students, and even the mascot where shouting bizarre and downright offensive comments at Xavier every time he entered the on-deck circle, took the field at third, and stepped in the batter's box. It was non-stop and incredibly distracting even for me just watching. Apparently Xavier had transferred from that same school a year earlier and everyone got the great idea that he was a traitor and deserved to be abused in the worst way.

Anyhow, he hit the game winning RBI and went 3 for 4 that evening. I asked him afterwards about all the shouting and name calling, and how he could maintain his focus for nine innings. He responded bluntly, "Somebody was calling me names? Who?"

Xavier simply detached himself from the "real world" and became the game. The "intruder's" weren't even given a chance to enter his field of play. In the end, their attempts to frustrate Xavier and to ultimately make him lose concentration, were futile. It is rare for a junior in high school to possess such mental focus in a clutch game. I have been one of his biggest fans since that game. I know his game inside and out. That is why I sent Carson to scout Xavier and to write a scouting report for me to review tomorrow morning. Not only do I want Carson to see the type of player that I'm looking for, but I want to see how good Carson is at seeing it.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Force Out

Wrapped up a great showcase this weekend at a community college south of Tampa. Populating my database and updating the signability questionnaires was top priority. I also picked-up on some new talent for next year.

Tomorrow, I'll be traveling to Ft. Lauderdale to have lunch with my new bird dog for south Florida. And like my relationship with Goldie, this too is a pre-arranged marriage. I swear, DeSear and Cooper are out to get me. Florida's been my life for years. I know the college coaches, HS coaches, AAU and other top traveling team coaches, and even a few of the little league commissioners in those prime areas.

To put someone in my market...especially south Florida, is criminal. This is almost getting too much for me to handle. I'm this close to going "Billy Martin." (fingers held almost together) Why don't they just fire me and get it over with? And to top it off, I've been told that this new bird dog of mine is a whiz at. . . (anyone, anyone). . . you guessed it. . . the computer. Can you believe this crap? What the hell are they trying to do to me?

But there is some good news. Words cannot express how thrilled I was to learn that our club's psychologist is coming to Orlando between Christmas and New Years for an annual shrink conference. Maybe I can be their case study? Maybe I already am? Where are the cameras and hidden microphones? I can hear 'em now, "Let's take an old-school baseball scout and surround him with some statistical freaks that believe the only three things a pitcher can control are K's, HR's, and walks." Where are my padded walls because I'm going to the Hotel California for sure! You can check out anytime you'd like but you can never leave.

And when they're done poking and prodding me like the experiment I've become, perhaps our club's psychologist can break away to interview Dallas Parker and a couple other Orlando kids with questionable make-ups. I can't forget to call Dallas and the other kids this week to set it all up. But of course, me first Doc.

Oh and by the way, Russell Reed is en fuego down in the Liga de Beisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico. He's tied with several players for second in home runs with 5 and tied for first in stolen bases with 6. Not to mention, his batting average is well over .330. Damn, did I just quote some statistics? Goldie's rubbing off on me already. At least I didn't quote his OBP . . . yet.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Performance Scouting? Never. (Part IV)

I actually made him repeat what he said. Then I made the mistake of bringing up earned run average as a way to throw out defensive errors to get a better read. I then got an earful of how ERA was flawed and not worth a damn.

Regardless, Rio was horrible in the pen. He had a terrible time keeping his fastball down and his breaking ball was about a foot short of the plate. He also spent way too much time in between pitches as if he were overanalyzing whatever was going wrong. The pitching coach offered no advice and stood their expressionless until it was time to give the green light.

In my mind, it was a critical moment because many inexperienced pitchers cannot overcome a devastating pen when they cross the foul line. They don't have the mental toughness to put the previous thoughts aside and focus on the next pitch. In other words, their head fails before their arm has a chance to show what it can do. Experienced pitchers won't panic because they know they'll find their groove in the game, if not the pen.

Goldie, on the other hand, saw nothing wrong. He was more fascinated with the radar gun. I practically had to pry it out of his hands so he would listen to my observations. Of course, he was quick to dismiss my concerns and reminded me that Rio gave up the fewest walks in the conference. He said all this with a smile knowing it would aggravate me.

I doubted Rio could recover from his pen, but the guy looked like a new pitcher once he took the mound. Just the way he carried himself on the mound during three warm-up heaters (all strikes) showed he was indeed confident and ready to pitch. Could the walk from the pen to the mound make such a difference? Rio immediately went on the offensive, throwing right down the middle of the plate, knee high. His velocity on the fastball was nothing to get excited about-- 90 MPH, but it had a distinct tail that I did not see in the pen. The leadoff batter wasted no time and came out swinging. Two pitches later the batter was down 0-2.

Expecting something offspeed or out of the zone, he surprised me by going right down the middle with another fastball. He locked up the batter who fouled it down the right field line. The next 0-2 pitch was another heater, but this one was outside and happened to tail into the corner for strike three. The batter didn't even swing.

Overall, Rio faced seven batters with his 30 pitches. He struck out three. Two grounded out and the other two hit singles. What impressed me the most, however, was that he quickly worked four of the seven batters into 0-2 counts. And on all 0-2 situations, he didn't relax knowing he was ahead. He continued to be aggressive. Instead of "painting the corners" he threw low across the middle. It was refreshing to see. Batters are more likely to chase low pitches rather than outside pitches.

But Rio did have several things wrong mechanically. His left foot (the planting foot) continually hit heal first as he planted it. He also has the "herky-jerky" as I call it. Not only does he look like he's laboring to throw the ball hard, but his arm jerks and bends during delivery in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I think there's a pretty good chance that down the road he'll have an arm injury just because the way his arm works. I can see why Manny didn't follow this kid. Although I liked his heart and it appeared he had some potential (although I didn't admit this to Goldie) I would never recommend him because of his mechanical flaws.

Goldie, however, was in complete denial over the mechanical flaws. Convinced I was trying to torpedo one of his top prospects, he accused me of having a personal vendetta against him. Of course, I agreed with him (on the personal vendetta part), but I still held to my guns regarding the mechanical flaws. There are just too many good pitchers in our territory with fluid arm motions. Why take a risk on a "herky-jerky" if you don't have to? Rio is the type of guy that would pitch great for a couple of years in the minors, suddenly blow-out his arm, and never be the same again. What good are his stats if he ain't playin'?

Anyhow, I'm sure this won't be the last time I hear about this. Goldie's probably told everything to Logan Cooper by now.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Performance Scouting? Never. (Part III)

Today was a travel day from Macon, Ga to Tampa, Fl. The I-75 express (and for those of you who were wondering, I opted for the Bar-B-Q Pulled Pork at Sonny's instead of my usual at Cracker Barrel). I spent quite a bit of my drive-time talking on my cell to HS coaches and a few JC coaches. Whenever I get the chance, I make it a habit to drill them about certain players' tendencies, their reactions to certain game situations, their performance in the classroom or lack thereof, and strangely, what their parents look like. If a HS senior is 6'3" and a buck fifty, but Pops is 6'4" and 230 (without the spare tire), then odds are that this kid is still filling out and will likely have more power in the coming years. Yes, I look at that stuff.

Goldie on the other hand could care less. We spent most of yesterday driving around central Georgia looking at talent (I use that term loosely) that he had identified as potential draft picks. I need not go any further than the first prospect we looked at. A pitcher from Perry JC. Let's call him Rio Cabrara. The head coach knew we were coming so he had the sophomore begin with a routine pen warm-up and then had him throw about 30 pitches through the heart of the lineup. The kids batting knew we were watching so they were trying their hardest to impress at the expense of their "star" pitcher. Keep in mind that Manny, my predecessor scout in this area, had nothing on Rio. Nothing. That included AAU and the local high school.

In talking with the coach beforehand, he explained that his team was forced to play with mostly freshmen last year due to some academic suspensions and other unforeseen reasons. He said they simply got rocked defensively and led the conference in errors and runs scored against. It also didn't help that they were dead last in runs scored. But of course he was all optimistic about this year considering that mostly all of his freshman have returned. Just as the coach was wrapping it up, Goldie started in on me with what I would call an "idea". At first I thought the "idea" was rather novel (if not ridiculous), but in the last 24 hours I've discovered that the "idea" really isn't all that new-- which just goes to confirm my old fart status. Here's what he said (as best as I can remember):

"When it comes to pitching, I focus on home runs, strikeouts, and walks. These are what the pitcher can control. Last year, Rio allowed the fewest home runs and walks in his conference and was like 5th in strikeouts. It wasn't his fault that the infield was like swiss cheese. The guy had one of the best ground ball to fly ball ratios in college."

Where do I even begin?

Anyhow, let me pick up on this tomorrow evening. I could easily write for another hour or two about what transpired after Goldie's "revelation," but I'm beat from the drive and would hate to just ramble on. Let me distill it down to a manageable post and we'll take it from there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Performance Scouting? Never. (Part II)

To me, Logan Cooper's demand was a slap in the face. Making me hire this kid was one thing, but requiring that both Seth and I agree on every prospect coming out of Georgia was ludicrous. My immediate boss, Donald DeSear (the national scouting director) hasn't said a peep about this sudden change of events. I've told him time and time again that I work alone. I've got a great network of high school and college coaches in Florida. Manny had a tremendous network of coaches in Georgia and South Carolina that I'm slowly getting to know. But Manny did have a bird dog, though. The kid was a former minor leaguer who went onto be an area scout in the northwest with another club. But at least the kid had a taste of what it was like to sign with a big league club and live on the road for several years going from minor league park to minor league park. He played the game for years at various levels giving him a terrific baseball foundation to draw upon as a scout.

What experience did Seth Goldbaum have? I'm sorry, but watching SportsCenter everynight, professing to be a follower of Bill James (did he ever play ball?), and reading something called Baseball Abstract just doesn't get it done. Taking a step back, I could probably say the same for Logan Cooper, our GM. Sure, he played little league and high school, but he was never drafted and never graced the lineup card of a minor league team. Gemini Christmas, he's an Ivy Leaguer who majored in math! What experience did he have to lead our organization to a World Series? Little if any I would argue. But the ownership saw something I didn't. A sort of efficiency argument. A business argument. They began to look at things like payroll dollars per win and payroll dollars per run scored. This was all foreign to me. What happened to the old guard? Baseball folk have naturally been former players. What the heck was going on? I guess I see the direction we're headed but I'm not buying into it.

But somebody in the front office has to be on my side. I don't know who. I certainly don't have pictures of anybody, so it's beyond me that they would be keeping an old fart like me around. Granted, I'm only 49 but that's how I feel. We don't have the lowest payroll nor the highest. We're middle of the road and simply looking to maximize our opportunities. I'm all for that but making me hire someone without any experience and making him and I agree on all prospects coming out of Georgia is flat wrong.

Reluctantly (more like kicking and screaming), I agreed to meet "stat boy" tomorrow at a junior college in Perry, Georgia, to scout two players that "stat boy" previously emailed me. We'll then make it over to Middle Georgia State to scout several other players of his. By the way, none of them were mentioned in Manny's 4-inch, three-ring binder of prospects from Georgia. This ought to be good. If "stat boy" and I are really going to make a go of it, I figured it would be well worth my time to show him my approach to scouting these players and to compare my reports with his. And if we have time, perhaps we can run over to Macon U to scout the homeless man loitering around first base that both Goldie and now apparently our GM thought was a "can't miss" prospect.

Goldie did mention something about law school final exams this week but he said he could probably reschedule tomorrow's final if it was absolutely necessary for him to scout tomorrow. Of course, I told him it was absolutely necessary.

"And while you're at it Goldie, see if you can get me some stats on kids who start out 0 for 2 and end the game 2 for 4."

Goldie grinned from ear to ear as he wheeled off towards his special van parked in handicap. "You won't regret this Cutter. We're gonna make a great team."

"Yeah, we'll see kid."

Monday, December 12, 2005

Performance Scouting? Never.

Had an interesting lunch today. I met up with the kid in the wheelchair-- Seth Goldbaum of Performance Scouting, Inc. We ate outside at a little cafe just off a college campus in central Georgia. That was our first mistake. It was a bit chilly this afternoon, but it wasn't the food or the atmosphere that mattered. I was there to see what he meant about me being fired before the high school season.

"So tell me Cutter, where does Mac Thomas rank on my list of catchers in Georgia?"

I knew damn well because I scrambled to dig it out before making my quick exit out of Tallahassee. The curiosity was killing me to see where he ranked Mac. Interestingly Mac was number three on his list. "I don't recall." I lied.

"Number three," he answered. "All his numbers point to him being a success at the next level."

"His numbers? The next level?"

"Yeah. On-base-percentage, walks, extra base hits, passed ball percentages, and stuff like that."

"What about heart? Desire? Leadership? And extra special stuff like that? Do you have stats for those things?"

He paused for a moment. "Bottom line, isn't performance all that matters? I mean, if a player produces statistically, he's a proven commodity."

"So why have you ignored the high school players?" I asked. "They have decent stats."

"Let's face it, they don't play against top competition. I've found that their statistics are wildly skewed in their favor. It's also very risky because they have yet to be really challenged by stiffer competition."

I chuckled under my breath. "Haven't been to the WWBA have you?"

"What's that?"

"Figures. You see kid, anybody can look up someone's stats and basically evaluate a player's past performance. The real key to scouting is how well you can evaluate a player's tools, his ability to improve on those tools, and whether he has that something extra special which I call the Sixth Tool. These are the things that will carry him into and keep him in the Big Show."

Seth sighed aloud. "I can see I have a major convincing job ahead of me."

"You're damn right. And so far, I haven't heard anything that would convince me that I'm about to be fired and that you're the one that can save my job. But strangely enough, I've got a deeper problem. I talked with Logan Cooper this morning. He made an unusual demand. . ."

(continued tomorrow)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Complete Game (Part III)

You may have heard from other scouts that the catcher is the hardest position to scout. I feel I have a leg up on my counterparts considering I was a pitcher for my entire career. I know what I want to see in a catcher and I know how to spot it. 31 years in the game doesn't hurt either. When others are simply looking at POP times and batting prowess, I dig much deeper. Of the 30 catchers I need to put on my wish list, Mac Thomas will be one of them. And now that the Hot Stove is over, I see why our GM wanted me to focus on catchers.

I've already told you that he has a small frame for a MLB catcher. A Paul Lo Duca of sorts. But what I like about Mac is that his uniform is always dirty after a workout or game. He goes for extra bases. He even steals. This kid has "hustle" and "Grit" written all over him. But he's had to work for all his tools. Some God-given talent of course, but he's a work in progress, always has been and will always be. Very different from Jackson Savard. And I'm here to tell you that's not a bad thing!

He has powerful legs giving him a strong base. His quickness is impressive and wreaks of countless hours of drills and practice. I love that he tries to gun down a runner taking liberties at first or even third. But he has the arm strength, accuracy, and more importantly, the confidence to do so. His flexibility is also worth mentioning. Part of his pre-workout/game routine almost looks like a yoga class. He recognizes the value of moving laterally on loose hips and being able to pounce and react naturally and fluidly without looking uncomfortable. I asked Jackson whether he was worried about players stealing second on Mac. He laughed. "Players don't want to steal on Mac. Makes my life easier. I don't have to keep throwing to first."

Despite all of that, the most impressive aspect to Mac is between the ears. He is a proactive catcher. He sets the tone for the game. He drives the game where he needs it to go. And when things get off track, he's very good at anticipating the opposition's next move and getting things back on track. Very rarely does a pitcher ask for another signal. Very rarely does he look over to the coach looking for guidance on what to do next. He's a freaking general out there. And his pitchers come out smelling like a rose. And that's fine with him. Very unselfish. He's the first player out of the dugout to congratulate a teammate who just hit a home run and he's the first player in the dugout to console a pitcher who was yanked for hanging one up in the zone resulting in a three-run shot. Players look for his lead. His enthusiasm is infectious. These are the things I look for. Some may call them little things. I call them vital.

Watching Mac take batting practice, I heard a voice from behind me. It was a young voice. One that I had heard before. Couldn't quite place it. I turned to see who it was. It was this kid in a wheelchair. Outside of his big nose, he was a good looking kid probably in his early twenties. Black curly hair, really built in his upper body, but very thin legs. Probably due to atrophy or something else I speculated.

"Mac Thomas, huh?" he asked, as he wheeled himself up to the fence. I couldn't help but hear the sound of clay grinding on the sidewalk against his wheels.

"Sure is," I replied, not really wanting to talk to anyone, much less a kid in a wheelchair.

"Pretty decent hitter. Above average POP times," said the kid, trying to make small talk with me.

I responded without looking at him, "Playing catcher is more than just POP times kid."

"Of course," he quickly retorted, " Mac has one of the lowest passed ball statistics in his conference. Not to mention that his bat provides a nice .450 on-base-percentage. Racks up the walks too. If I had a nickel for every time . . ."

"Look it kid, playing catcher is much more than statistics," I interrupted, wishing that he would get the hint and wheel himself away. But he didn't.

"Uh huh. Statistics are one thing. But performance scouting is another."

I turned to look at him after hearing those dreaded two words. He quickly gazed out at Mac taking BP not wanting to make eye contact with me. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I asked.

"Remember that list of catchers I sent you the beginning of November?"

"Who the hell are you?"

"Seth Goldbaum."

"Get away from me kid. I don't need your help." I tried to walk away but the kid turned his wheelchair and rolled himself after me.

"That's not what I hear. Logan Cooper wants you to hire me. He said you would be calling me to set something up."

"You've got a listening problem kid. I don't need your help, especially someone . . ." I barely caught my next words before they rattled off my tongue but the damage had already been done. My demeanor and tone gave away my piss-poor attitude. The kid's face contorted with a furious rage.

"F . . . you. You piece of S . . . You sucked as a player and you're washed up as a scout. I'm trying to help you but you don't see what's happening around you. Baseball is changing."

And then he said something that really caught my attention. "You'll be fired before the high school season starts. I'm the only one that can save your job."

Needless to say, after this showcase in Tallahassee finishes up today I'm on my way back to central Georgia to see what the hell he knows that I don't.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Complete Game (Part II)

Enough is enough. Let's get down to business. This afternoon I drove a good six hours to Tallahassee and I'm beat. There's a showcase at a local community college this weekend that I couldn't miss. Anyhow, let me talk about Jackson Savard, the junior pitcher at Macon U. Virtually a star at every level thus far. Little league, AAU, and college. Earlier this week, I knew his team had a 3 p.m. workout. So I made my way over to the field at 2 p.m. I do this on purpose. Sure enough, Jackson was in the outfield stretching and warming up. One hour before practice. He had a routine. The same routine I saw the day before. The same routine I saw two weeks ago. After about fifteen minutes, he began to jog the warning track with several other players who had just joined him. One of those players happened to be Mac Thomas.

Every last one of them had a smile on their face. They didn't get there early because they had to. Or because they wanted to impress me by showing up early. No, they were there because they wanted to be there. It was obvious that they appreciated the details of the game. The smell of the freshly cut grass. The pop of the glove with every catch. The friendly chatter as they began a quick infield. It was beautiful, dammit.

I watched very attentively as Jackson did a pen. With the pitching coach nearby, Jackson was full of questions and wanted feedback after almost every pitch. How refreshing it was to see someone so coachable. The kid was looking for little tweaks here and there that would give him some added movement or perhaps an additional 2-3 MPH. It was clear that he was a student of the game. All business. Never even had a clue I was watching him. Jackson was totally poised. Passion and drive were written all over his face.

It was almost like he had something to prove. I love that attitude. A good number of kids who've been the star player for a number of years can sometimes develop a harmful ailment-- an arrogant attitude where they feel they have nothing to prove to anybody. In other words, their past performance should speak for itself and carry them to the next level no matter what. Or they feel their physical attributes are so superior that they don't have a need to put in the extra work to refine their skills. Once he finds out that the other kids are catching up, he then motivates himself into working out by imagining the other kids working out harder than him and are catching up. His motivation is to stay a step ahead.

But I don't want a kid who has to be motivated by imagining his competition working out harder than him. I don't want a kid who wants to stay just a step ahead. I want a kid who is motivated from within and demonstrates a passionate commitment to the sport. I want a kid who is never satisfied or content. I want a kid who wants to reach his full potential no matter how hard it is to reach it. Discipline, work ethic, and willingness to learn, are just several of the attributes I need to see in order for me to consider a kid a legitimate draft pick. And this is just a starting point.

Jackson has those attributes and more. What really helps Jackson is that he isn't affraid to fail. He's very aggressive with batters. In other words, he pitches it right down the heart of the plate and he does it quite often. Of course, he's very deceptive about it with a great blend of off-speed, breaking, and fastballs. He's not the fastest pitcher around but his approach is very similar to Greg Maddux. Incidentally, practice ended at 5 p.m. I stuck around talking to the coaching staff until about 6:15 p.m. As I headed back to my car, I could still see Jackson in the outfield working on his aerobic base and Mac getting some extra swings inside the batting cage-- an hour and fifteen minutes after practice had already ended.

(tomorrow I'll take a minute to tell you about Mac Thomas and then finish up with a little blurb about who I met at the Macon U workout.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Complete Game (Part I)

Since I'm in Georgia today, I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention Kris Benson and more importantly, his wife's antics. Kris went to high school up the road in Marietta, Georgia. If I'm not mistaken, his wife went to a rival high school nearby. According to the New York Daily News, Anna Benson criticized the New York Mets for attempting to trade her husband in part because of her alleged negotiations with Playboy to pose nude. "We would never, ever have signed with New York if they had said they were going to trade us," she told the paper as reported by news services. "I was Miss [Politically Correct] for the Mets the entire time I was there."
"I have no deal with Playboy," she added.

Okay. What is this "we" and "us" crap? I guess I'm confused. I've never seen her fastball. How many strikeouts did she throw last year? This is the same stunt I believe Mia Hamm pulled when Nomar was traded to the Cubs. This "we" and "us" stuff has to go ladies. Just keep cashing your paycheck (Oops, I meant your man's paycheck) and go decorate the house or something. But please don't get confused with who's really making it all happen.

If you haven't read my "Girl Hop" post from the other day, you may want to check it out.

Today I was at Macon University watching junior pitcher, Jackson Savard, for the second time in the last four weeks. Manny ranked him the 8th best RHP in both Georgia and South Carolina. I had an appointment after the workout to interview both him as well as the senior catcher, Mac Thomas. I happened to really like the catcher. Manny had him rated as a 48 (fringe prospect) with a future OFP of 53 (fair prospect). This was a bit low in my opinion. I also had a chance to re-scout the homeless man loitering around first base.

But the real reason I wanted to write about Savard and Thomas, is because they both have what I call the Sixth Tool. They also come from two very different backgrounds making it a great comparison as to how the Sixth Tool has impacted their play and ultimately their future potential. Savard is naturally blessed with pitching tools. He's always been the star player from little league, AAU, high school, and now college. He was drafted out of high school in the 36th round but his father decided it was best for Savard to take a full ride to Macon U instead.

Thomas on the other hand is not naturally blessed with catching tools. He has a small frame for a catcher; comparable to Paul Lo Duca. He wasn't the star player in little league, AAU, and high school. In fact, he was just an average catcher. It was no surprise that he went undrafted out of high school. He ended up playing for a community college in Florida (that's where I started watching him) for two years. Went undrafted after his freshman year and was projected as a possible 40-50 round prospect after his sophomore year but was passed up because he told the scouts he was going back to Georgia on a partial scholarship to Macon U. His junior year ended up being a break-out year for him. But the scouts passed him up thinking that it was a fluke. I, on the other hand, will go a bit deeper and tell you otherwise.

And I also need to tell you who I ran into at the Macon U field. You're never going to believe this. If you're thinking it has to do with Performance Scouting, Inc., you're freaking baseball ready!

(I'll continue this tomorrow. Donald DeSear is calling my cell phone as I type.)

"I'd walk through hell in a gasoline suit to keep playing baseball." - Pete Rose

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Winter Meetings

Ah, I just love the smell of the Winter Meetings in the morning. All the activity. Speculation. Jockeying. Backstabbing. Sell-your-mother-down-the-river negotiating. And it usually all comes on the heals of a deep inward reflection on where the organization is and where it wants to go. That explains why yesterday I had a late-night, one hour phone call with our GM and national scout director. It was a good thing that I had done all that number crunching over the last week regarding the number of prospects I planned to track down. But then again, my instincts are usually one step ahead of management no matter how young or old they may be.

But this "planning session," as our youthful GM put it so eloquently, was a little different than usual. I knew something was up for the GM to call me from Dallas. For me to take up any of his precious time during the Winter Meetings was ludicrous. Anyhow, Logan starts the call by letting me know how fortunate I am to still have a job. Oh joy. Thanks again for the vote of confidence. He then proceeded to announce his plans to fire a quarter of the scouting staff. Keep in mind that he had already fired half the staff in October. The good news for me was that he wasn't going to expand my territory.

The bad news, however, was that they wanted me to hire at least two bird dogs. They both laid out a clean argument that it would be nearly impossible for me to cover three states without any help. Bird Dogs are unpaid associates that gather scouting data and compile reports for a certain area in order to focus your search and make your time more productive. But it is so subjective. Garbage in, garbage out. If your bird dog doesn't share the same philosophy for the game or he prefers a certain type of player that is much different than what you are looking for, you will get burned and players will slip through the cracks.

If I have told them once, I have told them a million times, "I work alone." But I can honestly say that populating my lists with 265 players has never been done before. I'm used to 170 players at the most. And certainly not between three states. I must admit that a couple times last week my stubbornness broke down and I felt that maybe I did need some help this time around. But then pride comes charging back to answer, "Screw them."

Only this time, I don't think I have much of a choice. They want me to at least hire someone in Georgia and another one for South Carolina. The third one would be for Florida but since I've been doing that job for a number of years without a bird dog, Florida is the lowest priority. And of course, they had some suggestions on who I needed to hire.

"We've been getting some pretty interesting emails regarding some Georgia prospects," Logan said.

"Oh, yeah? Let me guess, Performance Scouting, Inc.?" I asked.

"That's the guy. I called him up the other day to chat. Really knowledgeable kid. I believe he said his name was Seth Goldbaum. He goes to law school early in the day and can dedicate a good part of the afternoon and evening to scouting."

"Goldie! That kid kept peppering my cell phone with calls wanting a job. And he runs Performance Scouting, Inc.?"

"All I'm saying is that you give this kid a chance. I really like his stuff. He's right on the edge of performance scouting."

Yeah, right on the "edge" of a cliff. "With all due respect, have you read any of his scouting reports? They're horrible. I actually went to scout one of his alleged college prospects three weeks ago. A first baseman from Macon University. But after two innings, I thought I was watching a homeless man loitering around a soup kitchen. Simply pitiful. No energy. Scored a 36 OFP."

"Look Cutter, all I'm saying is to give Seth a chance. Make contact with him and get together. I'm not asking, I'm telling. And by the way, that homeless man loitering around the soup kitchen had an on-base-percentage of .530 last year and led the conference in walks. He's one of the most disciplined hitters in that league. I would suggest you take another look at him."

Ouch. The GM telling me how to do my job. Not good. And why in the world was our GM so interested in Seth Goldbaum? And what was this performance scouting crap? We don't scout using statistics. That's past performance. We're in the business of projecting future performance. Read any prospectus for a mutual fund (if you still have any after the tech bubble) and you will see that past performance is no indicator of future performance.

It's the tools that carry a player into the future. Not his stats. It's all about the tools baby. Perfect example will be the players I'm scouting tomorrow. I can't wait to tell you all about them. I will be updating their signability questionnaires and should have a bunch of stuff to talk about.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Batting Practice

On the Friday before Thanksgiving the 40-man rosters were set. Our club had one of my prospect/draftees become a "newbie" to the roster. Let's call him "Riggs." Whenever that happens it's kinda like a proud papa moment for me. He probably won't make the opening day roster for the Big Show but you never know what can happen in spring training. A couple injuries here and there, you get on a hot streak, and voila, you're off the porch and runnin' with the big dogs.

Anyhow, Riggs called me this afternoon to chat. It had been a long time. We drafted the left-handed hitting sensation four years ago right out of high school. 18 years old. I never will forget the first time I saw him. A skinny HS junior that looked like a puff of wind could blow him over. The "real" prospect that I was scouting was getting ready to take BP (batting practice) but I had to wait for this lightweight kid to supposedly knock a couple grounders to second so my guy could take over to show 'em how its done.

I wasn't even going to pay attention at first. I figured I would go take a quick drag or do something meaningless for the next five minutes. But what suddenly intrigued me was that the kid reached for a wooden bat. I thought that he surely picked up the wrong bat (ala Sammy Sosa). I whispered to another scout close by, "Let's see how fast he goes back to get his aluminum stick." The scout shrugged as if he knew something that I didn't.

Of course, what happened next was as pure of a hitting clinic that I had ever seen by a HS junior. His bat speed was incredible. No wasted movement whatsoever. None of this dropping or raising of the hands as the pitch was being delivered. The coach pitching BP changed his delivery, speed, and location on almost every pitch to Riggs. It didn't matter. Riggs was just as smooth with change-ups as he was with fastballs.

I was also impressed with his quick hips and hands. He would just go with the pitch and drive it to all fields. His arm-extension was excellent and his follow-through was textbook. Even more impressive was that he was driving it over the fence. A good 400 feet. And this was with a wood bat. The scout who had earlier shrugged at my ignorant comment then turned to me and said, "So now I guess you know who I came to see today." I could do nothing but shake my head. Fortunately, a year later we were able to draft Riggs in the eighth round.

When we talked today, it was evident that he was just happy to be playing baseball. Yeah, being selected for the 40-man roster was an important milestone for him, but ultimately Riggs has developed a steady, consistent approach that will serve him well over the long-term. He couldn't stop telling me how much he has learned over the last four years and how much more he still has to learn. I couldn't help but think that his desire to continually study and learn about the game would soon pay-off in a big way.

You need to understand that he went from batting .500+ in his senior year to .250 in rookie ball. And only 3 HRs as compared to 20 HRs. Riggs had never been away from home. He admitted that he simply wasn't prepared to handle the endless number of long bus-rides and playing conditions that weren't nearly as good as his old high school field. He recalled one night game that the lighting was so poor that he lost the ball in the stars instead of the lights!

But he put aside the numerous 0 for 4 appearances and pushed on. Determined to turn it around and improve, he worked his butt off. Sure it was slow and painful. But he did it. His AAA coach recently told our GM that he wished he could have 9 players just like Riggs. What more could a player ask for in terms of a compliment?

Are you starting to get the picture of what the sixth tool is? With all the talent Riggs had coming out of high school, I would've never recommended him for national cross-check if I didn't think he had the sixth tool. Over time, I'll give you more detailed examples of the sixth tool. We'll even get to see a couple college players this week in Georgia that have it. I'll have some extra time to spend with these prospects to really drill down into their mental approach to the game. The type of stuff that signability questionnaires don't capture.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Girl Hop

I have to digress today. I saw this college kid who, for all intensive purposes, girl-hopped his pitches. You know what I'm talking about, right? Ever watch those Olympic girls playing fast-pitch softball? Well, it's that funky hop-step the pitcher takes. At first I thought my mind was just playing tricks on me. There was no freaking way that this 19 year-old college sophomore was girl-hopping his cheese off the mound. It wasn't until about four pitches later that I realized he was indeed girl-hopping. I then tried to give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Maybe he's just a submariner with an awkward technique," I thought. Or maybe he was just pitching like a girl. I swear his knuckles were scrapping the dirt as he delivered. That's underhand in my book. Then you toss in that stupid step towards the plate and you've got a perennial Olympic standout. He'll just have to adjust his package under the cup in order to bring home the gold, but what the heck-- take one for your country dammit. Given the shorter distance from the mound to the plate, he'll probably pitch a 120 MPH equivalent. That would be insane. Much better than the cadre of predictable mid-80 MPH pitches that were getting rocked over the left field fence. Needless to say, I didn't bother putting this quack on my list of 90 RHPs.

I'm usually not this critical, but understand that I don't peep a word when I'm sitting behind home plate. I hold it all in and it kills me. You just never know who's listening. It could be the kid's father or worse yet, his girlfriend. Suggesting that he make an adjustment to his package may not go over too well with his main squeeze. Afterall, she probably thinks he's got a great future in baseball and can't wait to start spending his seven figure salary. Or at least she's going to make sure she's in a position to influence the powers to be that her boy should be a top draft pick.

Don't think this doesn't happen. More times that not when I go scout a workout, I'm outnumbered by girlfriends 3 to 1. These girls are the most dedicated bunch. Filing their nails and talking insatiably on their cell phones. Every now and then they take a quick glance at their payday who happens to be working his ass off trying to impress me. But these cunning little vixens know that the scouts can make or break their life of luxury. Let's just say that on a few occasions they will go to extremes to ensure a top draft selection with a nice signing bonus attached.

Several years ago, a buddy of mine who scouted with another club gave into the temptations at hand. This one girl was constantly calling him and he just eventually caved in. She figured correctly that her man was tenth round material but that she could negotiate her man into say a third round pick... the difference between a $50,000 signing bonus and a $500,000 signing bonus. My buddy went on to exaggerate this kid's scouting report and then proceeded to overpower several cross-checkers into seeing tools that just weren't there. Just when everyone was buying into this kid as a third rounder, the girl got greedy. She sent him some compromising pictures and threatened to show them to his wife if her man didn't go in the first round. He was doomed. There was no way that kid was going in the first round. He sat in the war room and watched helplessly as the first two rounds went by. As planned, her man was picked by the club in the third round. Several hours later, my buddy's wife called him on his cell phone. She wanted a divorce.

Moral of the story...don't girl hop.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Lineup Card (Part II)

Now that I've estimated 170 draft picks from my territory and divided them up between pitchers and position players, I round each up to the nearest five. This gives me 70 RHPs, 30 LHPs, 20 catchers, 10 first basemen, 10 second basemen, 15 shortstops, 10 third basemen, 15 center fielders, and 10 other outfielders.

I then apply one of my rules of thumb. If a position is targeted to yield between 0 and 20 draft picks, I add 5 to the projected number. Between 21-50, I add 10, and between 51 and up, I add 15. If my boss asks me to emphasize a particular position, I will add anywhere from 5-10 to the projected number of that particular position.

After applying my rule, I now have 90 RHPs, 45 LHPs, 30 catchers, 15 first basemen, 15 second basemen, 20 shortstops, 15 third basemen, 20 centerfielders, and 15 other outfielders. These are my targets for each position that I must scout in preparation for the 2006 draft in June. A total of 265 eligible draft prospects is what I'm shooting for. I will have a spreadsheet for each position. The first thing I do is populate the spreadsheets with about 125 or so players that I scouted last year but weren't eligible for the 2005 draft because they were either HS juniors or 4-yr college sophomores. In addition, I'll add all the players in my territory who were drafted in 2005 but failed to sign with the club that drafted them and are currently eligible for the 2006 draft. This gives me a good starting point.

I will rank them according to OFP (overall future projection)-- a number between 20 and 80, with 50 representing the average major league ball player. I'll also sort them by geography to help make my travel time more productive. Over the next six months it will be my job to re-scout the 140 or so players already on my spreadsheets and to find another 125 draft eligible players that will complete my lists. There won't be a day that goes by where I'm not constantly ranking and re-ranking them.

As soon as the new year rolls around, I will start pestering our national cross-checkers to come visit my top prospects. That's usually fine with them since it's probably dumping snowing up north. But invariably they'll migrate their efforts northward after the snow melts. This puts a little more pressure on me to identify my top prospects early.

Of course, at the same time I will also be looking to scout about 125 HS juniors and 4-yr college sophomores to populate a new database for the 2007 draft. Always looking ahead. Believe it or not I already have about 30 players for the 2007 draft database. These kids I saw in the spring when they were HS sophomores and 4-yr college freshmen.

Anyhow, that's how it all starts. At least for me. Now it's time to get down to business. Just drove 6 hours to Charleston, South Carolina, to watch workouts for the College of Charleston, Charleston Southern, and The Citadel. Let's see what they got. Are you ready?